ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia - Russian President Vladimir Putin staged a televised meeting on Friday with a loyal support group called the People's Front, suggesting he may promote it as an alternative power base to his scandal-plagued ruling party.
At an event that mixed echoes of Soviet Communist Party congresses with the atmospherics of a US talk show, Putin said he planned to raise the Front's status by making it a "public movement" and holding a formal founding congress in June.
He first set up the Front two years ago to broaden the appeal of his ruling United Russia party after regional elections showed its influence waning. Since then, United Russia's reputation has taken further blows.
At Friday's event, Putin made a series of populist pledges to loyalists assembled in the southern heartland city of Rostov-on-Don - ranging from curbs on severance pay for corporate bosses to better care for orphans, to higher standards for teaching Russian history in schools.
"We will meet regularly ... so that what we promised our citizens is not forgotten," Putin said.
Sitting in the front row flanked by activists, he called for uniforms at state schools and for a post-Soviet version of the honorary title Hero of Socialist Labor. He made good on the latter promise by creating the title Hero of Labor of the Russian Federation in a decree signed shortly after the meeting.